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Our future must be decided with reason, not passion

Today the debate on independence for Scotland enters a new phase.

Within the space of 45 minutes this morning, experts with international reputations in economics and in law will separately pronounce on the position of an independent Scotland in the international arena and in relation to the UK economy.

It is no surprise that the Fiscal Commission Working Group established by the SNP will say it would be in Scotland's interests to retain sterling immediately following independence or that independence would provide the full range of economic levers to improve competitiveness and increase growth. The significant questions will be whether they recommend departing from the UK on rates of tax or regulation of financial services.

The international status of an independent Scotland has been at the eye of the storm over independence. Today, the Scottish Secretary Michael Moore will reveal the legal opinion received by the UK Government is that an independent Scotland would become a new state and the remainder of the UK would be a continuing state in terms of international law.

Crucially this means Scotland would have to reapply for membership of organisations from the EU to the UN, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation. In addition, thousands of treaties would have to be renegotiated. This would be an enormous challenge at any time but could certainly not be accomplished within the timescale laid out by the SNP for independence day in March 2016. Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP's minister for constitutional affairs, dismissed the UK legal advice as an opinion and cited the view of other eminent international lawyers that independence would mean two equal successor states to the UK. But it is difficult for the SNP to gainsay the official legal advice of the UK Government by assertion and it is significant that Ms Sturgeon herself said membership of international bodies would have to be settled "not by law, but by sensible and mature negotiation". This mirrors the Nationalists' position on EU membership.

Both sides must make their case robustly but an acknowledgement that negotiations will be required may be more likely to gain the co-operation central to the spirit of the Edinburgh Agreement than accusations of near-colonial arrogance.

We welcome the move to engaging with substantive issues. The subject of Scotland's future inspires passion but Scotland is a nation which prides the quality of reason. It is evident that those not unequivocally committed either to independence or remaining in the UK have been awaiting reliable information on the effects, domestic and international, of ending the Union so they can vote with confidence as to the consequences. They deserve plain facts and honesty from both sides.

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